Monday, 23 September 2013

Colchester, Essex - St Helen's Chapel

One of the last two 'in area' churches St Helen is a bit of a surprise in that it is nowadays a Greek Orthodox church, filled with icons and redolent of incense.

The Chapel is built on the foundations of the Roman theatre, which can be seen just above ground level: probably the core of the lower part of the walls of the Chapel is Roman too. In 1076 it was restored but post reformation it became a house, a school, a library, a Quaker meeting-house, a warehouse or workshop. Doorways and windows were blocked, others opened, including a large garage-like door in the east wall. A floor was inserted, to make it a two-storey building.

But in the 1880s the Round family, who owned the Castle, generously bought the Chapel and restored it, employing the architect William Butterfield. He preserved all he could, and really did a good job - though, while the outside retains a definite charm, the inside feels very 'restored'. The Rounds presented it to the local Anglican diocese for use as a clergy meeting-room, but after a few years it became the parish hall for the local Anglican church. Such it remained until the 1950s, when it began to be used by the Castle museum as a storeroom, a situation lasting until 2000, with the interior of the Chapel entirely locked away from public view.

So we come to the last chapter of the story for the moment. The Orthodox Parish of St Helen had been established in 1996, and had been looking for its own premises ever since. The Borough Council, fully sympathizing with the Parish's need and perhaps rather shameful of keeping such a building from the public, agreed to release it to the Parish for a period of two years, which can be extended to four. This took effect in November 2000. The building remains in the ownership of the local Church of England diocese, which happily gave its consent to the arrangement.

Pevsner is rather dismissive: Less of note in MAIDENBURGH STREET. The former CHAPEL OF ST HELEN, stone with bands of Roman brick and some C13 lancet windows, and from there a nice view down to the N, with Nos 23 and 51-52, both timber-framed C17 with projecting upper storeys.

St Helen's Chapel (3)

Looking east

St Helen’s chapel is a chapel no more, for the poor little place was disused when we called, yet in the 12th century it was attached to the abbey and was endowed with 14 acres of land.

No comments:

Post a Comment